Is It Alzheimer’s or Old Age? Sudden Forgetfulness in the Elderly

by | Jan 22, 2018

With age comes forgetfulness, and it’s not uncommon for even the sharpest mind to get a little foggy. With elderly clients, you might notice them losing track of their keys or running late on their bills from time to time. While this is a normal part of aging, you might wonder if this forgetfulness is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

While age-related memory problems share some similarities with early signs of Alzheimer’s, there are a few important differences. Learning these can help you know if your client is just a little forgetful or if there is a more serious problem. With early detection, you can provide better care and make preparations to help the client and family members best cope with the disease.

The Difference Between Normal Aging vs. Alzheimer’s

While Alzheimer’s shares some similar characteristics with age-related mental decline, its symptoms are often much more intense and sustained over time. Memory problems may cause temporary inconveniences, but they aren’t enough to significantly impact quality of life.

Some memory problems are only temporary and might resolve themselves once the underlying issues causing them are addressed. However, Alzheimer’s disease can slowly erode the ability of your client to function independently, affect their health and can make simple tasks even more challenging.

Signs of Alzheimer’s to Watch Out For

  • Frequently losing items and unable to retrace their steps to find them

  • Difficulty solving problems or completing complex tasks

  • Changing mood or behavior, such as becoming socially withdrawn or easily agitated in new surroundings

  • Losing sense of time, such as the wrong time of year rather than simply the wrong day of the week

  • Declining spatial awareness, which may make reading or travels difficult

  • Difficulty in speaking or holding a conversation

  • Increasingly poor judgment, which may cause increasingly severe life disruptions

Other Common Causes of Memory Loss or Forgetfulness

While some memory problems are to be expected with age, there are times when memory loss will become more severe. While this may be alarming, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have Alzheimer’s disease.

Older adults’ bodies and minds are increasingly sensitive to the smallest disruption, which can cause confusion or memory loss if left unchecked. However, once the underlying cause is addressed, your client can quickly regain their mental faculties.

  • Medication: Some medications, including statins, beta-blockers, antidepressants, can cause memory loss or confusion. Changing the dosage or the medication itself could be enough to get them back to normal.

  • Dehydration: Dehydration can cause temporary confusion among the elderly, but it is easily mitigated by keeping hydrating refreshments easily accessible to them.

  • Nutrition: Memory loss could be caused by poor nutrition, especially if they are deficient in vitamin B12. Heavily processed foods can also impair their memory, so make sure they get enough nuts, berries, lean meats, and dark, leafy greens.

  • Medical Condition: A host of medical conditions, such as a blood clot, thyroid problems, a head injury, or something else could cause temporary memory problems. Urinary tract infections are among the most common, as they can exacerbate problems which arise from dehydration.

  • Surgery: If your client has undergone anesthesia for a surgical procedure, they might suffer from “postoperative delirium.” This condition can last for weeks after a surgery and affects up to 40% of patients. Your client might experience a more severe episode if they already suffer from depression.

It’s natural to expect the worst if your elderly patient is experiencing memory problems. In most cases though, there is little to worry about.

However, if you suspect Alzheimer’s, it’s important to find out as soon as possible. The earlier the disease is detected, the sooner a treatment plan can be put in place and the necessary lifestyle changes can be made to better adapt to the disease.

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